The push for a Nebraska civics test is back on.

And there is pushback against it.

Lawmakers on Tuesday will take testimony on a bill requiring Nebraska school districts to administer a civics test to students by eighth grade and again no later than 11th grade.

LB 399 specifies testing students with the civics portion of the naturalization exam of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Questions from the 100-item civics examination are given to immigrants seeking citizenship in the United States.

A student’s score would be provided to parents.

The bill would also substantially amend the Americanism law, doing away with the term “Americanism” and replacing it with “American Civics.”

The Nebraska State Education Association, the union representing the state’s public school teachers, opposes the bill.

NSEA Executive Director Maddie Fennell said opposition is primarily based on the additional testing required of students and the group’s feeling that lawmakers are “jumping into curriculum areas that should be handled by the Nebraska Department of Education.”

Sen. Julie Slama of Peru, who introduced the bill, said it is not an attempt to dictate curriculum.

“It is a way for our state to codify the minimum bar necessary for schools to meet in civics education and replace outdated language,” Slama said.

Regarding Americanism, she said the term is “outdated and carries with it some historical baggage.”

The term arose early last century as the nation battled the rise of tyrannical political ideologies.

Under current law, school boards must appoint a “committee on Americanism” to review curriculum for compliance with the Americanism statute. The bill would rename them “American Civics” committees.

Slama said “American Civics” is more modern and better reflects the committees’ work.

Committee members would still review a district’s curriculum, ensuring that it aligns with state social studies standards and “teaches and assesses foundational knowledge in civics, history, economics, financial literacy and geography.”

The committees would have to make sure that the social studies curriculum incorporates “multicultural education.” And the bill would expand a list of noteworthy occasions that public, private and parochial schools would have to recognize at some point with patriotic exercises, adding Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, Native American Day, Constitution Day and Thanksgiving. The list already includes Memorial Day, Veterans Day and the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

The committees would have to hold at least two public meetings a year, taking public testimony at one. They would have to keep detailed minutes and publish a report on their findings and recommendations.

Under the bill, schools would still be required to teach about the “dangers and fallacies of forms of government that restrict individual freedoms or possess antidemocratic ideals such as, but not limited to, Nazism and communism.”

It would eliminate some parts of the law many educators don’t like, including a provision making it a misdemeanor for educators to violate the law. Enforcement would be the responsibility of the Nebraska Department of Education.

Nebraska Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt said he was awaiting a decision from the State Board of Education’s legislative committee on whether to testify in support of or in opposition to the bill.

But, he said, the mandate for a test is a concern.

“As with LB 1069 last session, the board does not support a mandate that specifies the naturalization test,” he said.

The bill contains some other tweaks in language, among them:

  • Teaching kids to develop “respect” for the American flag, rather than “reverence.”
  • Teaching history in a way to give all students “the opportunity to become competent, responsible, patriotic and civil citizens who possess a deep understanding of and respect for the United States Constitution and the Constitution of Nebraska.” The current language in the law says history should be taught in such a way “as to make the course interesting and attractive and to develop a love of country.”

Joe covers education for The World-Herald, focusing on pre-kindergarten through high school. Phone: 402-444-1077.

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